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|Photo by Bob Gatty|
CHICAGO -- As convenience retailers look to a future with smaller stores and a rapidly changing consumer, challenges and opportunities abound, Renee Sang, senior director, Global Customer Innovation Network, at Accenture, said in the AWMA C-Metrics Convenience Industry Outlook Forum's opening session.
"Retailers are saying their store footprints are going to get smaller," she said, noting the challenges this portends for operators as they manage product assortment to maximize profit from those small store spaces. At the same time, she said consumers are increasingly becoming tech savvy and using applications (apps) on their smartphones to make buying decisions, both through price and product comparisons and by following recommendations of friends in their social network that can be accessed simply by using the phone to scan a barcode.
Today's consumer, Sang explained, is always online, so it is possible to leverage that trend to engage them to take advantage of the opportunities this provides. "Influence is the new loyalty," she added.
It is possible, according to Sang, for convenience distributors and retailers to take advantage of the "streaming environment," noting that Walmart currently uses an app that allows customers to vote online as to what products they want to see in the store.
Products can even be tailored to customers in real time, she said, noting that at www.uflavor.com, it is possible for individuals to make their own beverages with their own customized label, and have them sold in vending machines or to support promotions, celebrations, teams and other special occasions.
She reviewed many more apps and websites that provide opportunities for retailers to draw customers into their stores "based on what is relative to them at the time," such as a site that allows consumers to scan a quick response (QR) code on a cigarette pack to find locations that allow smoking, or another that provides recipes, ideas for using a product and a video that can be shared with social networks just by scanning a product label.
"Do we know what our customers are missing and what is missing from their experience?" she asked. "Are we ready? Do we have the information and insight and structure to do tactical promotions? For people who bought cigarettes in the last three months, what else have they bought? What can I do with that information? It's real, it's here. Customers are taking us down this route, and we need to be ready."
Following Sang, InfoRhythm President and CEO Viv Penninti took the stage. He spoke about how the "information tsunami" is affecting the convenience industry and explained that C-Metrics is based on wholesaler sales to 28,000 convenience stores, including 15,000 independents. "It is a true representation of what is going on in the industry," he said.
"All our distributor partners have access to this data set," Penninti continued. "What you can do with it is quite powerful. What drives your business is assortment, and out-of-stock is a massive issue. This can help you control that."
Overall, Penninti estimated some $20 billion could be gained for the c-store industry through the intelligent use of the data provided through the InfoMetrics and C-Metrics programs. "We have a singular passion in the belief that we can help this industry," he declared.